Not all homeowners can be as lucky as the French police when looking in their sewer system. The police managed to find $25 million worth of stolen Harry Winston jewels.
Putting a sewer camera in a home's drains can provide a wealth of valuable insight though. Homeowners can resolve blockages and find out the health of their lines.
Knowing what to expect can make the process smoother. Keep reading to know what to expect when performing a sewer inspection.
What is a Sewer Camera?
Sewer cameras assist plumbers to view the main sewer line and pipes. There is a small camera mounted on the end of a flexible cable.
Professional versions will have powerful lights mounted with the camera. This makes looking at the pipes easier.
They will be self-levelling. This makes it easier to view as the picture will always be upright as it snakes through the pipes.
The cameras used these days are high resolution for a sharp clear picture. Video recording is also possible.
The best feature is the transmitter which most sewer cameras have. As the camera moves through the pipes, the transmitter can tell the plumber exactly where it is if they have the appropriate equipment to locate the signal above ground.
The Benefit of Using a Camera
By using a camera homeowners can have confidence in the health of their plumbing system instead of guessing what problems might lie below.
Finding problems early means sometimes they can resolve them before they become more expensive or before they require very invasive excavations to repair.
Finally, this method is non-invasive. There is usually no need to dig holes or cut into the drywall. Every home has a “cleanout” to access their sewer and this is the best way to access it for a sewer camera inspection.
When to Use a Sewer Camera
There are three times when a homeowner should consider getting a sewer inspection. They are useful when buying a home, planning a remodel, or if you're experiencing issues.
Consider an inspection if there are sewer backups, gas odour, or an overflowing toilet. Another sign of an issue is water that is slow to drain or not draining at all.
Prices vary for this service, and with that so does quality. Ask beforehand if you are able to watch the inspection yourself while it is happening live. Also ask if you are able to get a copy of the video file, and if that will cost you any more on top of the fee for the inspection.
When scheduling an appointment, plan for it to take about an hour. It can take longer if the location of the cleanout isn’t known or accessible, or if there are some other potentially challenging circumstances for the plumber. Homeowners will need to provide the home's address and their contact information. If they are buying a home, they’ll need to coordinate a time that works for the plumber, the buyer, the realtor, and the sellers; so scheduling can sometimes be a challenge.
Prepare For Inspection
Before the technician arrives, homeowners should restrain their pets. Inform all parties that need to be aware of the time and procedure.
Locate the cleanout(s) in the house. Usually, there is one right as the sewer pipe leaves the foundation and there should also be one on the main stack which is the pipe that comes down from the floor above. The preferred cleanout to use is the main cleanout which is just before the sewer leaves the foundation.
This can be tricky to find, especially in finished basements. You are looking for a metal or plastic plate on the concrete floor. If you can’t find it don’t worry. Plumbers usually have a pretty good sense for finding them, but if its location remains a mystery there are usually some other options available.
When The Technician Arrives
When the plumber arrives they will want to walk through the home and get a feel for the layout of the plumbing in the home.
This will help them determine the best options for accessing your home’s sewer. In some instances, it may not even be clear whether the sewer goes to the front or the back so some additional inspection may be required outdoors as well.
During the Inspection
Once the plumber locates the access points and lines he will set up the camera. The camera will get fed down the sewer line.
They may need to feed the camera through different access points for a full picture. This happens when there is a blockage or damage to the pipes which may prevent the camera from getting past.
If there is damage or a clog which prevents the passage of the camera through the main sewer there often aren’t any additional options at that point as there usually isn’t any way to access the other side of the sewer.
Depending on what is found at that point will determine the next steps. A sewer cleaning machine may be able to clear the blockage. However, if it is clear that there is physical damage causing the problem an excavation may be required to repair the sewer.
Mark the Problems
If the camera wasn’t able to pass a problem in the pipe like a sewer collapse or misalignment and an excavation will be required to repair it the contractor will need to know where to dig.
The plumber will need to use a locating tool to determine where the camera head is underground. They will mark the location of the sewer damage with paint or flags so the excavator knows where to begin.
Once the crew has exposed the problem, make sure you get the plumber back to inspect the rest of the pipe BEFORE any repairs are completed. It would be horrible to perform a repair, backfill the hole, and then find out that there are other problems requiring repair just a little further down.
What to See
The plumber looks at the screen to see what the camera "sees". Having an experienced Edmonton plumber is key for this process.
Someone who is more experienced will interpret the condition of the pipes. The inside of the pipes are not usually clean so it takes a professional to know what to look for.
The plumber will look for internal damage like cracks, pipe separations and misalignments, root infiltration, and grade of the sewer. They will also determine what material the sewer pipe is made of which is important to know.
After the Inspection
After the inspection completion, homeowners will receive a report on any problems found. They can also request a video of the visit.
Having the video is useful for the future. If the plumber refuses to send the video or won’t let you watch the camera while the inspection is done, be careful. They may be trying to sell a service you don't actually need.
What the Camera Cannot Find
The camera can only see inside the pipe, and generally only what is in front of the camera. Sometimes you’ll notice that as the camera gets pushed around a corner almost nothing is visible until it emerges afterwards as the camera is just pushing along the wall to go around the corner.
Remember that the camera cannot see outside of the pipe. If water is leaking through your sewer pipe or a joint in the pipe it won’t usually be detectable from a camera inspection.
The camera can only see the walls of the sewer pipe if they are exposed. If the walls are covered with grease, scale, or soap scum then that is what the camera will see. Sometimes it is suggested that the sewer be cleaned before using a sewer camera, while other times it is not necessary.
When there is a blockage in the sewer the camera is often not able to see it as the sewer is flooded with sewage. If some water is passing through and it is draining slowly then the blockage may be visible, depending on the situation.
What the Camera Can Find
A drain camera is perfect for getting a clear image of what the inside of the pipes looks like. The plumber can locate where the pipes go with a locator tool as well.
Remember, if there is a complete blockage you may not be able to see it on the camera if it is flooded.
Most sewer cameras can be used with a locator tool to determine either where the sewer runs through your yard or to find a specific point of the sewer. The plumber can place the camera head at an exact point in the sewer so that it can be located above ground.
A sewer camera can sit at fittings and pipe connections. This lets the plumber see which way the water flows from one line to another.
Since gravity is the way water flows away from the home, placement of the pipes is key. Things like settling and tree limbs can move the pipes.
A camera can help confirm that the water is flowing in the right direction throughout the system. If it isn't, the affected pipes need adjusting to allow for proper flow again.
Type of Pipes
Using a camera to look at the plumbing system can determine what material the sewer is made of. Homeowners may find that their pipes are more than one material, often switching from one to another as it leaves the foundation of the home.
If the pipes are different, usually plastic replaces the old material used in the home. The older material will begin somewhere in the yard and extend to the main municipal line.
If a buyer is looking at a home built before the 1960's they should check for galvanized pipes on both water supply lines and drain lines. They will need replacement and that should factor into the home sale price.
Galvanized pipes are steel or lead pipes with a zinc coating. Over time the zinc wears away.
This exposes the lead to the water supply. Ingesting elevated levels of lead can cause a host of life-threatening diseases.
The rust on the inside of these pipes can trap lead particles. This lead can sit there for years into the future. Then the rust can release the lead into the water.
Galvanized pipes also have a nasty habit of corroding inwards. For water lines, they eventually corrode to the point of completely closing off so you have no flow. In drain lines, it makes drain cleaning challenging due to the reduced inside opening of the pipe. Usually, when galvanized drain pipes are encountered we recommend replacing them rather than attempting to clear the clogged drain.
Cast Iron Pipes
These pipes are iron that gets heated until it becomes liquid. It is then poured into a mold and cools to a solid.
The advantage of cast iron is the thicker walls. It also is resistant to tree roots.
It has a long lifespan with a slow rate of corrosion. After 1950, cast iron pipes come with a cement mortar lining. This protects from interior corrosion.
The disadvantages include interior and exterior corroding and non-elastic behaviour. Cast iron is also very susceptible to damage from acidic drain cleaning products.
Clay is heavy and difficult to work with. It is not common among new homes today but there are lots of clay tile sewers in Edmonton in some of the more established neighbourhoods.
A benefit to clay pipes is their resistance to corrosion and degradation. The disadvantage is they are porous which also makes them very susceptible to damage from acidic drain cleaning products.
Clay tile sewer pipes are usually made in 3-4 foot sections which join together with a bell and spigot connection. This connection is very vulnerable to root intrusion and is often quite problematic. However, because of the good strength of the pipe, if the sewer is in relatively good condition it becomes a great candidate for a fibreglass sewer lining.
If you have a clay tile sewer with a root problem lining your sewer can extend the lifespan by up to another 50 years! Not every sewer is a good candidate though, many are too far gone.
Orangeburg / No Corrode / Tar Paper Sewer Pipe
This material is a fiber conduit that is no longer popular. Homeowners that discover tar paper pipes should consider replacing these pipes no matter their condition.
Tar paper is almost like having a cardboard pipe dipped in tar. It is also frequently compared with asphalt shingles if you imagined them rolled up to form a pipe.
Most tar paper today collapses and causes a blockage in the system. We also often find large sections of it have washed away along the bottom which makes sewer cleaning difficult as the head falls into the void under the pipe instead of continuing down it. Homeowners can expect a max life of 50 years for laid tar paper sewer pipes. However, most remaining tar paper sewers in Edmonton are older than 50 years as most have already been replaced. Those that remain are usually showing signs of collapse with an egg shape to the internal opening showing that the end is near.
Plastic Sewer Pipe
Plastic sewer piping tends to be the material of choice in homes built after 1970. These pipes come in both ABS and PVC plastic.
The smooth inside makes them perfect for letting water flow away from the home. Unlike the other materials, these pipes are lightweight and easy to cut.
These pipes are perfect for tieing into older pipes. This lets owners update pipes in their home and still hook into older municipal pipes.
Can a Homeowner Do the Inspection Themselves?
This is generally beyond most homeowners. The problem is that the equipment is very expensive, and while you can rent it from some rental shops, if you damage the equipment you will be on the hook for what is usually a very expensive repair or replacement bill.
If you do decide to try it on your own, interpretation of what you are seeing could be a problem too. You may think that something is a real problem when it actually isn’t or on the contrary, you may miss something that is a serious problem.
To try this on your own is really rolling the dice. We recommend that you let the professionals come in and do what they do best.
Schedule a Plumbing Camera Inspection
If a homeowner is in a situation where they need a sewer camera inspection, they should call a plumber. Have a professional use the right equipment and their knowledge to inspect your sewer.
Prepare for the scheduled appointment by retaining pets and locating access points. The plumber will start by getting a general understanding of the plumbing situation.
A camera will then snake through the lines to record the inside of the pipes. They will look for damage and potential problems.
The plumber then provides an analysis and video of the inspection. Homeowners can use this to make any repairs needed.